A few weeks ago I met Annie Clark, the waifish, bright-eyed chanteuse behind St. Vincent, outside a record store in Georgia. She was there with her family. They were amused that a poster for her new album, “Actor” (the cover featuring a picture of her face), was in the window, and were urging her to go in and buy a copy.
The album cover really speaks to the music. Clark stares into the distance, her eyes wide and her hair curling in every direction. She looks like some otherworldly fairy. Similarly, Clark’s music is composed of her ethereal, breezy vocals over jarring, distorted guitars and drums.
Given her background as a former member of the Polyphonic Spree, and given that I had never heard her first album (“Marry Me”), I expected St. Vincent to sing light, poppy ballads. Quite the contrary.
First, her music is loud. While Clark’s voice may be light, songs like “Actor Out of Work” and “Save Me From What I Want” are thick with distortion and wrecking beats.
After stalking YouTube, I learned that Clark is a master guitarist who shreds live like a member of an ?s hair metal band.
On the other hand, she does have a restrained side. “Black Rainbow” is a hushed track that pairs Clark’s voice with jabbing guitar and floating keys. Eventually, however, the song climaxes in a goopy, cinematic swamp of organ, strings, and synth.
If “Actor” proves anything, it’s that Clark is a master of both the quieter, simpler aspects of songwriting and convoluted, complicated orchestral arrangement and production. Even on tracks like the jazzy and buoyant “Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood,” Clark layers vocal effects, strings, stuttering drums, and a plethora of other instruments without sounding overcrowded or noisy.
I can’t wait to get more into St. Vincent’s catalog. “Actor” is a truly dynamic album featuring an extremely talented songwriter and artist.
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